This is part of a series I’ll be writing about my trip to Pixar studios, which was generously hosted by Disney.
How would you like to get a peek inside the minds of the animators behind Pixar’s upcoming movie Inside Out, which is about the inner workings of a tween girl’s mind? As part of my recent tour of the Pixar studios in Emeryville, I got to see the process of developing a feature-length animated film, beginning with the production design, which is how the filmmakers imagine the style and look of the animated world.
Since Inside Out takes places largely within the mind of the 11-year-old main character, Riley, they had to get even more creative than usual with this one. Notice, how I said inside the “mind”, and not the “brain” — which one imagines as at best a CAT scan and at worst, a biology class specimen.
The animators envision Riley’s mind as sort of a space-age mission control meets bowling alley, where memories are stored in brightly colored balls which are occasionally called up to be replayed. While the control center is very futuristic, other parts of the Riley’s inner world conjure up more sentimental times, such as the Islands of Personality (which seem like the rings of an old-time circus), the Train of Thought (watch out for the electric third rail! BART riders will appreciate that one), or the Old Hollywood-esque Dream Productions.
It was interesting to see how much every little detail is consciously crafted, from the imagery to the color palette. Since half of the movie takes places in the “real” world as Riley navigates the family move from Minnesota to San Francisco, the animators wanted to make the exterior and interior worlds visually distinct. In the outside world, the colors are muted. The Minnesota flashbacks are pastel and almost seen through rose-colored glasses, while the San Francisco segments are dingier and grayer. Anyone from the Bay Area will practically hear the floorboards squeaking when you see the interior of the Victorian where Riley and her family live.
And then there’s the voices inside Riley’s head. These five characters (Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear and Sadness) are based on the research of San Francisco psychologist Paul Eckman. Amy Poehler of SNL and Parks and Rec plays the main mind character Joy, and Indian American actress Mindy Kaling voices Disgust. But much of the story centers on a tug of war between Joy and Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith.
Who wins Riley’s mind? I have to admit, I don’t even know… as the working cut of the film we screened didn’t include the ending. Inside Out opens in theaters everywhere on June 19, and until then you can watch this trailer:
Follow Disney/Pixar on YouTube for more previews! And check back on HapaMama, as I’ll be posting more behind the scenes peeks…